“I am a Manpower worker. I now think that if I had contracted Corona I might have been better off. At least then, I could have fallen at the steps of a hospital and eat whatever they gave me and managed. We can’t even begin to think about work now. We can’t even step out of the boarding. Every day we have to walk from room to room in the boarding asking others for food. Now, many don’t even open their doors anymore. They barely have enough for themselves, how can they look after others also. I can’t even return to my home. Nobody is willing to accept us. If things continue this way, I won’t have any choice but to drink poison and die,” said a Manpower worker stuck in mandatory self-quarantine in
Currently, thousands of workers are facing a severe crisis as a result of what is considered to be the second wave of COVID-19 in Sri Lanka. This large cluster having originated at the Brandix factory in Minuwangoda, has now spread rapidly to other Free Trade Zones (FTZ), including Katunayake. Apart from the more than 1000 workers who are currently being quarantined at Government quarantine centres run by the military, many workers have been told to self-quarantine within their respective hostels and boarding places.
Hostel owners have been warned by the Police that legal action will be taken against them, if workers step out of their accommodation. However, as these workers were not given proper pre-warning, they have not been able to stock up on basic essentials, including food and medicines, and are therefore struggling to survive. Some of the areas worst affected are; Katana DS division, Awariwatte, Jayawardanapura and Amandoluwa GS divisions, and Walana and Kowinna areas in the Gampaha district.
Further, following the detection of COVID-19 positive workers from several factories located within the Katunayake FTZ, employees of these factories were barred from going in to work, and travel restrictions imposed on them from leaving their respective hostels. No entity has come forward to take responsibility for these workers, and see to their welfare. Their inability to report to work is being seen by their employers as a fault of theirs. Certain factories where there has been a rapid spread of the virus, have only provided some relief rations to their employees, whilst other employees have been abandoned and left to fend for themselves or starve.
Approximately 300-400 Manpower and other daily wage workers from in and around the Katunayake area, that we are aware of, are undergoing mandatory self-quarantine at their places of residence. A week or two ago, when someone was tested positive at a hostel or shared accommodation, workers from all hostels in the immediate vicinity were rounded-up, herded into buses and taken to military-run quarantine centers around the country (i.e. Kalutara, Dambadeniya, Peradeniya etc.,), many of which were unsanitary and not in keeping with basic COVID-19 safety standards. Workers who’ve tested positive
at these centres have been sent to Neville Fernando Hospital in Malabe.
Now, only those who’ve been tested positive are taken for treatment, whilst those residing in the vicinity are asked to self-quarantine. Government officials place a sticker on their gates that they are under selfquarantine. Workers are being confined within four walls and behind a gate, without even being provided with their basic necessities. Manpower Agency workers have been made particularly vulnerable under these circumstances, as there is no official body that can be held accountable for their upkeep.
Manpower workers in mandatory self-quarantine in the Katunayake FTZ area appeal, “I work for a Manpower agency. My husband is a daily wage worker. Neither of us have had work for 1-1.5 months. We have no means to survive. We have got nothing from the Govt so far. Only a ration bag from the Union earlier on.”
Manpower workers from Amandoluwa in mandatory self-quarantine in their hostels say, “There are about 20 of us men & women and four children at our boarding. We have no food. All the shops are closed. We have no work. Please help us in some way.” Yet another worker said, “Nobody cares about us!
There’s nobody to check if we’re even dead or alive.”
The Board of Investment (BOI) has requested Manpower agencies to carry out PCR tests on all workers who haven’t done one, and to send them to work thereafter. However, one such agency in Awariwatte has told its workers that they cannot afford to do PCR tests, and that they were going to shut down. “We don’t have money to even eat, let alone afford doing PCR tests on our own,” they lamented.
We, the undersigned organisations and unions working on behalf of FTZ and Manpower workers, call on the Government – Ministry of Health, Ministry of Labour, the Presidential Task Force to combat COVID19, the Board of Investment (BOI) and the Ministry Level (Tripartite) Task Force to respond to the impacts of COVID-19 on Employment, to respond to the following urgent demands;
– To provide urgent relief rations, essentials and medicines to workers in mandatory self-quarantine.
Here’s a list of some of the COVID Funds received from Corporates, foreign Governments and IFIs to date. We trust that the Government utilise some of these funds to provide assistance to these workers and publicise a breakdown of how these funds have been utilized thus far.
– To carry out an immediate survey/needs assessment of workers in and around the FTZs, including accurate information on Manpower workers.
– To provide Rs. 10,000 health allowance for FTZ workers who have lost their jobs, or are currently unable to work due to COVID-19, including Manpower workers.
– To carry out PCR testing on all workers, including Manpower workers working in and around the Katunayaka FTZs.
– To ensure that all Government quarantine facilities and hospitals treating COVID-19 patients are inkeeping with international safety standards.
– To maintain a regular flow of risk communication, including what to expect in case of anyone in the boarding or factory being found to be COVID positive, or is showing symptoms, and details about Government response and emergency contacts. Ensure that all communication is shared in Sinhala and Tamil.
– To ensure workers taken to quarantine centres, in mandatory self-quarantine, and/or have not been able to go to work during the lockdown, are compensated.
– Publicise and enforce the tripartite agreement on compensation reached during lockdown, decided on at the Joint Task Force meeting.
– Strictly enforce safety regulations via Government health authorities when factories open and workers are asked to report to work.
Ceylon Bank Employees’ Union (CBE)
Ceylon Federation of Trade Unions (CFTU)
Ceylon Industrial Workers Union (CIWU)
Ceylon Mercantile, Industrial and General Workers Union (CMU)
Ceylon Teachers’ Union (CTU)
Dabindu Collective Sri Lanka, Katunayake
National Union of Seafarers in Sri Lanka (NUSS)
Progressive Women’s Collective
Revolutionary Existence for human Development (RED), Katunayake
Sramabimani Kendraya, Seeduwa
Standup Movement Lanka, Katunayake
United Federation of Labour (UFL)
Appeals from Manpower workers